Aeronautics Students Ready to Fly

By Harrop, Joanne Klimovich | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 29, 2017 | Go to article overview

Aeronautics Students Ready to Fly


Harrop, Joanne Klimovich, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


They are hopeful it can stay airborne, if only for at least 258 feet.

Students at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics have been logging hours inside one of the hangars at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin constructing an aircraft to compete in the Red Bull Flugtag event Aug. 5 at the 40th annual EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta.

Red Bull Flugtag (“flying day” in German) challenges amateurs to build human-powered flying machines that will be launched off a 22-foot-high deck parallel to the Fort Pitt Bridge overlooking the Allegheny River on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. Teams will be judged on three criteria — flight distance, craft creativity and showmanship.

This criteria has inspired flying tacos, prehistoric pterodactyls, winnebagos with wings and even Snoopy and the gang to grace the Flugtag decks. Since the first Red Bull Flugtag took place in 1992 in Vienna, Austria, more than 100 have been held around the globe, attracting up to 300,000 spectators for a single event.

“We believe it will fly,” says student Dustin Colella of Castle Shannon, who saw information about the event on social media and approached his instructors and classmates about the idea. “But ... there are so many factors that go into it, from wind speed — a head wind will definitely help us — to the proper weight and balance, to the pilot.”

The pilot is 120-pound classmate Turner Kauffman, who was chosen because he weighs the least. Colella jokes they are monitoring Kauffman’s diet keeping him on a strict regime of peanut butter, celery and water. They also are working on his vertical leap because where he lands will be a key factor in helping their chances in this competition.

“I was OK with it,” says Kauffman, from Minerva, Ohio, who will be wearing a helmet and life jacket. “I wanted to be a part of this project, and I am not big and strong, so a lot of things I wasn’t able to do. So being the pilot works for me. I was a little bit nervous at first — basically scared to get crushed by it — but we are making it safe.”

Jason Pfarr, dean of academic affairs for the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, was skeptical at first. His first inclination was, “No.”

“A 22-foot ramp into the river? Somebody might get hurt,” he says. “I am still a little nervous, but also really excited, because they are into it, and it is a wonderful project for our students. It’s a trustworthy design, and they feel confident it will fly. It’s a direct line to what they are learning in the classroom. They have to think, ‘If we do this, then does that affect this?’ We really want it to fly. Some of the entrants might just be in it just for the fun. We want to have fun, but we also want it to actually fly.”

Their team is called the Wright Burgh’ers. Their school was created from a company named Curtiss-Wright Flight Services. The company, founded by Glenn Curtiss and Orville Wright, offered aircraft sales and service, as well as flight training. …

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